Colt Ford Reveals New Layers on his Seventh Album
For most of his life, Jason Farris Brown’s biggest focus was on sports. At first it was baseball, then it was golf, which he played well enough to compete on the pro circuit for several years. But something else was nagging at Jason, a deeper passion calling him in a different direction.
And so Jason Farris Brown became Colt Ford. Just like that, he put away the clubs to become a songwriter and country rapper and co-found a record label. “Music has always been my first love,” he says.
Though commonplace today, the cross-pollination of country and hip-hop hardly existed back then. It was 10 years ago that Ford made his life-changing transformation and became one of the first artists to successfully merge these musical styles. “I get it that from the outside looking in it might seem unusual, but it never seemed odd to me,” Ford says. “I have always been someone who was able to do a lot of different things.”
Ford doesn’t care for descriptions like “country rap” or “hick-hop.” The burly entertainer with a quintessentially American stage name says what he does is simply a form of country music. “Recitations in country music and ‘spoken word’ and ‘talking blues’ songs have been around since before I was born—songs like ‘Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),’ ‘Hot Rod Lincoln,’ ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ and ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia,’ just to name a few.”
Growing up, Ford liked the mainstream sounds of Journey, the Eagles, and Earth, Wind & Fire and was also drawn to his parents’ Elvis Presley and Waylon Jennings records. About the time he entered high school the groundbreaking Run-DMC spun his head around. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, what is that?’” he recalls. It was a dream come true (one of many for Ford) when, years later, he collaborated with them on a song called “Ride On, Ride Out.”
“There are lots of people who have been successful in music but not that many who have moved the needle like they did,” Ford says of the rap pioneers from New York City. “They created such a movement.” That musical movement continues to gain new ground, such as when a young recording artist named Little Nas X recently struck viral gold with a homespun ditty called “Old Town Road.” With a cowboy theme, a banjo sample, and a hip-hop beat, the catchy tune became an internet sensation and lassoed onto the Billboard country charts before being removed for not being country enough. A subsequent version of the song featuring country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus raced to the top of Billboard’s pop chart and remained there for 19 weeks.
The controversy sparked debate over what exactly is country—something that Ford has heard his entire career. But his attitude toward Little Nas X’s huge success is akin to the old saying about a rising tide lifting all boats. “I’m happy for the kid. Good for him,” Ford says. “Any time you can open more eyes, that’s a good thing.”
Though Ford has sold millions of records in his career and has repeatedly placed on the Top 10 Country Albums Chart, a smash hit of his own has dangled just out of reach. He has written for and recorded with some of Nashville biggest stars (including Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, and Montgomery Gentry), but his greatest chart successes have been under other artists’ names. For instance, Jason Aldean’s remake of Ford’s “Dirt Road Anthem” (co-written with Brantley Gilbert) is a modern classic that has influenced many other artists and is considered to be one of the biggest country hits of the digital era.
Since 2009, Ford has released seven albums of his own while Average Joes Entertainment Group, the company he co-founded with Shannon Houchins, has built a strong roster of dozens of other country artists on its various imprints. This certified overachiever hopes his latest release, We the People, Volume 1, will mean even greater success. “I want to be on the radio because I was raised on the radio,” says Ford, who plays upwards of 125 shows a year with his six-piece band. “And I’m excited because I feel like this new music is the best music I’ve made.”
He is doing more conventional singing these days. You can hear his rich baritone on “How to Lose a Woman,” a graceful and tender ballad on the new album. “It took me a minute to find my voice and also to find the right songs for it. The reaction has been great. Some people have been surprised—even some of friends are saying, ‘I didn’t know you could do that.’”